Mark hadn’t known what to expect, but this wasn’t it. The private jet wasn’t nearly as private as he thought it would be. There were dozens of people milling about the cavernous space.
No one treated him like a prince. No one really paid him any attention. He and his three friends entered to zero fan fair and they were left to choose which large leather chairs they’d like to occupy.
The seating could be arranged in a variety of ways and the seats swiveled to face any direction, assemble into a board room, smaller dining sections, and even fold into beds. Considering how they’d been woken in the middle of the night; he was tempted to start in the prone position.
Until he saw her.
She was college age with earbuds and an air of rich, spoiled girl trying to look poor wearing thrift store clothing, a handmade knit cap, and peace signs sewn onto a purposely tattered thousand-dollar backpack. She was fascinating.
Mark had barely sat down before he was out of his previously chosen seat and swiveled the chair in front of her to face backward, hoping to catch her attention. She glanced up but her expression never faltered.
Mark shook his head a tiny bit and raised his eyebrows. “I just wanted to come meet you.”
“Well… we’re going to be stuck together on an airplane for about six hours and I thought it best we get to know one another before we reach our destination.”
What was with the one-word answers? “Cancun?”
“How?” The tinniest hint of a smile played on her lips. She was obviously poking fun at him.
“By way of my grandfather’s private jet?”
“Who?” Now she couldn’t hide a smile and Mark smiled back.
“Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh.”
“We’ll be leaving”—Mark lifted his arm to glance at his non-existent watch— “In about ten minutes.
“I’m Hazel.” She reached across the space and took Mark’s hand. “I’m Nicholas Cohen’s granddaughter.”
“I have no idea who Nicholas is.” Mark held her hand a little longer than was socially acceptable. “I am Marcos, named for my grandfather, but I usually go by Mark.”
“Nicholas is your grandfather’s best friend and it’s a travesty you are not aware of that… Marcos.”
So, she was going to play that game. “Is Nicholas the man who fled to Cancun after he murdered a man?”
“Allegedly murdered a man.”
“That’s right,” Hazel said. “It’s his word against the dead guy. And the dead guy ain’t talkin’.”
“Seems like he would be able to talk, if your grandfather hadn’t killed him.”
“Maybe you should ask him,” Hazel suggested.
“If I ever have the chance to meet your grandfather, I promise to ask him.” Mark nodded definitively.
“I’ll hold you to that.” She sat back and folded her arms across her chest.
“I’m sure you will,” Mark said in his best sultry voice.
Hazel nodded over toward the guys. “Who are your friends?”
“College roommates.” Mark waved his hand dismissively. “They’re rather dull. Trust me, you don’t want to meet them.”
“Translation, they’re all really hot and you don’t want me flirting with them.”
Mark almost choked on the sip of water he’d just taken. He twisted the cap back on the bottle and rested it in the cupholder beside his chair. “I would not be the best judge as to whether or not they are hot, as you say, but I definitely don’t want you flirting with them.”
“Well, you’re in luck,” Hazel said. “The only hot guy on this plane I’m interested in flirting with is the one who was brave enough to come talk to me.”
“So, what are you studying?” Classic pickup line. Hopefully she’d bite.
“It’s spring break so I’m not studying anything at the moment. You?”
“Geospatial analytics at North Carolina State University.” Was he bragging? Probably. He decided to reign in his pride. “Where do you go to school?”
“It’s a small, private school near D.C.” She waved her hand dismissively. “My father’s a senator so he wants me to get the very best education the taxpayers can afford.” She rolled her eyes.
“You’re not as impressed by that as he seems to be,” Mark said.
“I’m opposed to wasting valuable resources on senseless goods and services.” She stuck her nose in the air.
“Like that late-model iPhone and Burberry weekender you’re sporting?” Mark glanced down at her backpack and raised his eyebrows at her. She puckered her lips. “How much do those things go for these days? Twelve? Fourteen hundred?”
“It was on sale.” Hazel pulled her gaze away.
“And flying around in a private jet to rub elbows with princes and dignitaries in the Caribbean for spring break,” Mark continued. “That’s not wasting resources at all.”
“My grandfather asked me to come.” She reached her hand into the air and dismissed him with a wave. “You need to go back and sit with your friends. You’re insulting me.”
“I’m all for saving the planet and feeding the poor,” Mark said as he pulled forward out of his chair. Then he leaned closer and whispered close to her face. “I just don’t like hypocrites.”
“How dare you,” Hazel started but Mark was already three seats back and ignoring whatever comeback she had prepared.
“Crashed and burned?” Noah asked. It wasn’t really a question.
“Mind if I have a go?” Drew said. “She’s totally hot.”
“Don’t waste your time,” Mark said, buckling his seatbelt as the pilot dimmed the lights for takeoff. “She’s high maintenance.”
High maintenance or not, Mark couldn’t wait to spar with her again. Hazel. What a pretty name. Unique. The color of her eyes. He tried to force his lips not to curl into a grin, but knew he’d failed miserably when his three friends laughed in unison.